Nothing takes a hiking or camping trip from good to amazing like spotting wildlife in their natural habitat. Bears are some of the most amazing creatures to observe in the wild. And they’re also one of the most dangerous to encounter if you’re not prepared. It’s always important to prioritize safety when you’re camping, but bear safety is crucial if you’re heading into the backcountry.
Make sure you’re ready for a bear encounter by understanding how bears behave, checking with local authorities to learn about bear activity on your route, and bringing along the right supplies. Bears usually avoid people, but they can be attracted by all the smelly things we pack with us. You want to eliminate those attractants to keep bears out of your campsite. Fortunately, animal-proof containers aren’t hard to find.
To make it even easier, we reviewed a number of products and selected the best of the bunch based on the following factors.
Durability: Can it really stand up to a bear, weather, and repeated use?
Utility: Can you rely on it to deliver what it promises?
User-Friendliness: How easy is it to use when you’re out in the wild?
Check out our favorite supplies to help you keep bears at a safe distance.
For smaller jobs, these one-gallon storage bags by Stink Sack are the perfect choice. They are moisture resistant and reusable, and they can stand up to the wear and tear of the trail. You can use these odor-proof bags on their own or as a liner inside other containers. After you’ve eaten the food inside the bag, you can keep using it throughout your adventure to store garbage and other waste—just be sure to clearly mark bags used for waste and to completely sterilize them before reuse.
Durability: These bags are puncture and tear resistant so they can be used many times.
Utility: The smells stay inside the bag, while dirt, humidity, and other pollutants stay outside.
User-Friendliness: These are like super-powered Ziploc bags, so there’s nothing tricky about them. The only complaint is that the seal can be hard to close, so always double check to make sure the bag is really sealed.
One of the best ways to stay safe in bear country is by eliminating attractants that entice bears to your campsite. We love these odor-proof bags that prevent bears and other critters from catching the scent of food, waste, and dirty clothes. In addition, BaseCamp bags are biodegradable, free of harsh chemicals, and made with FDA-approved materials. They come in various sizes and can be cleaned and reused, making them a smart investment to add to your backpacking and camping gear.
Durability: These bags are sturdy, tear resistant, and heavy duty enough to be used again and again.
Utility: BaseCamp bags get the job done. Campers have had success keeping animals away without even hanging filled bags in trees—although we still recommend hanging bags for ultimate bear safety.
User-Friendliness: BaseCamp bags are lightweight and easy to use. However, some users have reported struggling to close the included clamps.
Hopefully you won’t end up in a situation where you’re face-to-face with a bear, but if you do, Frontiersman Bear Pepper Spray is one tool you want to have on hand. Field tested and compliant with both the EPA and Health Canada, this spray has a thirty-foot range—further than other sprays and ideal if you’re startled in the middle of the night. Because the spray is released using heavy fog delivery, you also get maximum coverage once deployed. It will not cause any long-term damage to the bear: it simply disables them long enough to let you safely exit an encounter.
Durability: This spray has been proven to remain effective up to three years after the production date.
Utility: The canister disperses spray within five seconds, giving you the fast response you need to safely get away. It also comes with a glow-in-the-dark safety mechanism that prevents accidental discharge and makes it easy to use at night.
User-friendliness: A hip holster is included with the bear spray, which keeps it in easy reach. You can even use the spray without releasing it from the holster, if needed.
When you’re staying overnight in bear country, you’ll want to bring this sturdy, grizzly-proof cooler along. The powerful insulation and UV resistance helps preserve ice longer than many other coolers, which means drinks are always cold and food is safely stored. The Tundra also comes with a dry goods basket and marine-grade nylon rope handles that make it easy to haul around and won’t degrade. It can hold up to twenty-six cans, and, when tested in the field, it was found to be almost indestructible.
Durability: Made with the toughness YETI is known for, the Tundra Cooler will stand up to weather, abuse, and any run-ins with bears or other wild creatures.
Utility: This cooler uses heavy insulation and durable plastic to keep ice from melting for days. It comes with ropes and textured grips for easy hauling, plus molded tie-down slots and nonslip feet mean it won’t slide away in slippery conditions.
User-Friendliness: All the things that make this cooler stand out when it comes to long-term cooling and bear resistance also make it heavy. For backpacking trips, the weight can be a challenge. The cooler is about twenty-five pounds empty.
A tamper-proof canister is another great way to store food and other products—like deodorant, gum, and toothpaste—that have bear-attracting scents. This sturdy canister from Backpacker’s Cache is a great food container for camping because it is impossible for a bear to get into and can keep you safe without the necessity of hanging food in a tree, although you should still store the canister away from your campsite.
Durability: These canisters are so good at sealing scents inside that users rarely report a bear ever trying to get into one. However, if they do, the canisters can stand up to the test.
Utility: The Food Canister can store at least ten packets of dry food and is easy to carry. Durability does come at a small price, though: these weigh two pounds—a bit more than other canisters—but avid backpackers say the weight is worth it.
User-Friendliness: While it’s nearly impossible for a bear to get into these canisters, they are easy for humans to use. As a bonus, they make a perfect stool for cooking or just giving your feet a rest.
Getting out in bear country is exhilarating—just go prepared. These are our favorite picks for a safe backwoods adventure, but we want to hear from you. If you’ve purchased any of these bear-proof products, let us know how you liked them—or give us your input if you pick one up in the future. Also, let us know if we overlooked your favorite product, and we might include it in a future piece.
Written by Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca has honed her safety and security skills as both a single mom and a college director. Being responsible for the well-being of others helped her learn how to minimize risk and create safe environments. Learn more